Short Guide to Drawing with Paper by FiftyThree

Short Guide to Drawing with Paper by FiftyThree

How do you draw or sketch on an iPad with Paper by FifyThree? What iPad stylus is the best for creating art? Why does it burn down there when I pee? Wait a minute… I don’t have an answer for that last one, but I think I can help with the first two.

Mastering Paper Tutorials

Since publishing this short guide I’ve gone through several iPad styli and written numerous tutorials expanding on the techniques teased here. Be sure to check out my Mastering Paper by FiftyThree series to learn the latest ways I’m using the app and tools to create realistic portraits and other pieces of art.


Image of a LunaTik Touch Pen Alloy on top of an iPad
At first I wasn't a fan of the LunaTik Touch Pen, but it's quickly grown on me and become my non-Bluetooth stylus of choice.

Update: Stylus Switch

I’ve since moved on from the LunaTik Touch Pen to using FiftyThree’s Pencil exclusively.

Every drawing is different and I try to keep that in mind before opening Paper by 53. With that said, the following are some general steps and techniques I utilize when drawing and painting on a 3rd generation iPad with retina screen. One thing to remember is experimenting with all the tools and drawing everyday will really up your game. I’ve learned so much doing just that for the last couple of months.

Block Out Your Composition

When I begin a new PaperFaces portrait, I start by sketching an imperfect square with the pen tool. I use the square as a rough guide for the composition because I like the look of shapes and lines bleeding outside the border. An alternative would be to use the eraser to straighten up the edges, if you like things neat and tidy. You could of course forgo the square and fill the entire page — whatever works for you.

Usually I pencil in quick gestural outlines as a guide for painting forms later. Other times I jump right to the background and splash in layer upon layer of watercolor. It really depends on the source material and if the background has enough detail to bother with.

Screenshot of an in progress Paper by 53 drawing
Face study using watercolor and some default colors.

Watercolor without Water

If you ask me, this tool is what sets Paper by 53 apart from all the other iPad drawing apps like Procreate and Sketchbook Pro. I use the watercolor brush in two ways… well maybe three.

When crisp edges aren’t a concern, I’ll block in color quickly with the watercolor brush. I achieve continuous tones by painting slowly and never removing the stylus (or my finger) from the screen. If I want to create a smooth gradation in color I move the brush progressively faster to fade it out.

Highlights and Shadows

Brightening existing areas is easily achieved with the watercolor brush. Mix enough white into a color and the brush can be used to lighten. This technique is perfect for adding highlights or correcting mistakes when an eraser’s edges might be too harsh. When working with white my general rule of thumb is to move fast. If you stick around in one location too long it’ll lighten too fast. The same is true when using full black…

To shade existing areas apply a darker hue, gray, or black. For backgrounds I tend to use a light blue-gray to paint in shadows. I prefer to start light and layer on multiple strokes to add depth and contrast gradually. When working on a subjects’ face, I’ll use a dull brown to add dimension and shape. Applying a coat of gray or brown works wonders on hair as well.

Filling Shapes with Ink

I don’t use the fountain pen or marker tools all that much because I like my illustrations to have a more painterly feel to them. However, these tools are perfect for covering large irregular shaped areas with a base color — like hair. They also come in handy when I need to rework or make adjustments (more precise than the eraser) to something I already drew or painted.

Screenshot of a PaperFaces drawing
Filling in shapes using the fountain pen gets the job done quickly.

Two things to keep in mind when working with the marker tool:

  1. It has some translucency to it. If you draw over something, it will most likely show through. Because of this, the marker can help you shade more precisely than the brush since the tip is narrower.
  2. Black, white, and some dark colors are opaque; meaning they will completely cover up anything you draw over.

The Multipurpose Pencil

I saved the best for last. When I first started using Paper by 53, I was enamored with the thick and thins of the fountain pen and how true to life the watercolor brush handled. But then I rediscovered an old friend, in a digital world — Mr. Pencil.

Need to lightly sketch out a face… pull out the pencil. Need to smoothen out some edges… pull out the pencil. Need to add shadows and highlights… pull out the pencil. It has so many uses, that by default I spend most of my time with it. My absolute favorite is to use a white on top of a black (or dark background) and sketch in highlights, especially in long hair. It’s sick how easy achieving realistic looking hair is when using the pencil.

How to Draw Hair

Read in detail how I draw hair as part of my Mastering Paper by FiftyThree series of tutorials.

Detail shot of hair drawn using Paper by 53
Paper by 53's pencil tool works wonders for rendering hair.

Closing Thoughts and Questions

I hope some of this has been helpful. To better describe and show my process, I’ve recorded numerous speed paintings done with an iPad 3, Paper by FiftyThree, the Mac OS X application Reflector, and edited with Adobe AfterEffects.

I’ve taken the liberty of embedding a video playlist below, demonstrating how I use Paper by FiftyThree to paint portraits. (ProTip: watch it fullscreen). Feel free to comment, like, or subscribe to my channel if you like what you see.

If I missed anything or you’re looking for additional pointers leave a comment below or tweet me.

View more of my Paper by 53 video tutorials on YouTube or learn how I use Paper.

Post contains affiliate and/or referral links. For more details read my disclosure policy.

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Just another boring, tattooed, time traveling designer.

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